An Overview of Cooper’s Hill
Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester is an area of peculiar cultural interest in England. It certainly possesses natural beauty: it is a prime example of an unspoilt green hill, flanked by lush woodlands and the perfect place if you want a walk in the pristine English countryside. Spring and summer are the best times of year to arrive, as you will be able to sample the lush green surroundings, although autumn and winter also possess a distinct charm of their own. In addition to its natural appeal, however, Cooper’s Hill has a very strange claim to fame…
A History of Cheese Rolling at Cooper’s Hill
Nobody is entirely sure when or why the custom of rolling cheese down Cooper’s Hill originated. Some have inevitably made the suggestion that the practice started out as some kind of pagan rite dating from pre-Christian times; this is a standard-issue explanation for all manner of folk customs, but is often based more on romanticism than on solid history. Other people have suggested a more prosaic explanation: that the custom started out as a way of keeping hold of grazing rights in the area – in short, to ensure that the common was being used for something, even if it was something rather curious.
What we know for sure is that cheese-rolling goes back at least as far as the fifteenth century, and originally took place on Whit Monday – although in more recent years it has moved to the Spring bank holiday.
The Event in the Modern Day
For the most part, the custom survived into the twenty-first century in unchanged form: it is still a game in which a round piece of double Gloucester cheese is rolled down a hill, and players race down in order to catch it. In practice, the cheese has far too much momentum for anybody to actually catch, and so it is actually the person who reaches the bottom first who wins the prize – which is, naturally, the cheese itself.
In recent years, health and safety concerns have bedevilled the custom. Authorities have called for tighter security to ensure that nobody gets hurt, and in 2013 a foam model was used instead of an actual cheese to prevent injuries from people trying to grab it. In fact, the official cheese-rolling contest is currently on hiatus, with a sort of underground event being held in its place. Still, despite all the odds, it looks as though cheese rolling at Cooper’s hill will survive in one form or another for many years to come.